Sam Park is the first openly gay and first Asian-American man elected to Georgia’s state legislature.
There are less than 600 known lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer elected officials in the U.S. — just 0.1 percent of all elected officials across the country — according to a recent report by the Victory Institute, a nonprofit that trains and promotes LGBTQ political hopefuls. But this election cycle, a record number of LGBTQ Americans, who make up an estimated 4.5 percent of the U.S. population, are seeking office.
Can these candidates, who are running for positions ranging from town councilmembers to U.S. senators, help the LGBTQ community reach more proportionate representation? In a new NBC Out special series, “The 0.1 Percent,” NBC News profiles a handful of the hundreds of LGBTQ Americans who are on the ballot this November.
One year after becoming the first openly gay and first Asian-American man elected to Georgia’s state legislature, Sam Park had to say goodbye to his mother.
In her final weeks, she was comfortable. “The opportunity she had to really spend her final years in peace with the family — you know, I think it’s an opportunity that every Georgian deserves,” Park said.
When Park ran for a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives in 2016, he did so in part because of his mother’s battle with cancer — and his desire for others to have the same access to health care.
“While we still have not expanded Medicaid to cover more than half a million Georgians, that’s still a fight that I’m continuing,” Park told NBC News.
A MAN OF FAITH
Sam Park is now running for his second term to represent Georgia’s 101st House District.
Park said Stanley’s sermons focused on the principal of “inerrancy,” which contends that the Bible contains the totality of the word of God, including passages regarding homosexuality as an “abomination.” During college, when he came out to himself and his sister and then eventually his parents, he drifted from his faith.
But Park found his way back to the flock via Charles Stanley’s son, Andy Stanley, who “started a nondenominational church that focuses on churching unchurched people,” Park said. There, at North Point Community Church, which Park said is more welcoming to LGBTQ people, he found himself drawn back to his faith.
“Andy Stanley has become one of the most influential voices in the South,” he said. About 30,000 people regularly attend services at his North Point Community Church and related satellite churches.
“His focus is to constantly connect people’s faith not to a book but to the actual event, so it’s something deeper than just words on a page,” Park explained. “It’s something lived, it’s something experienced. He has publicly stated over the past few years that the Bible should not be used to attack the LGBT community.”
Park’s district covers Gwinnett County, the most diverse county in the state and one of the most diverse in the nation. Not only is it racially diverse, but Gwinnett County is also younger than most: The median age is 35, and a quarter of voters in the county are below age 30.
It’s through this district that Park was able to find a path to his election victory in 2016 and defeat three-term Republican representative Valerie Clark by just a few hundred votes.
“Gwinnett County really is the linchpin,” Park said. “Any Democratic state candidate who wants to win statewide, that path to victory has to go through Gwinnett County.”
However, Park added, the state is “incredibly gerrymandered.” Donald Trump won Georgia by just over 50 percent of the vote, but Republicans control state House seats by a ratio of 2-to-1. Due to this imbalance, Park said it is a challenge to get any progressive legislation through, including the Medicaid expansion bill that he cosponsored and introduced.
“This election will have a big impact,” he predicted. “I think we will still be in the minority, but it’s going to be a growing Democratic minority.”
“I have introduced a lot of legislation in my first term, from comprehensive civil rights legislation to cosponsoring Medicaid expansion,” Park said. But while none of his major legislative priorities have reached the governor’s desk due, in part, to the GOP-controlled state House, he presses on.
“It’s important for us to introduce and work on passing legislation we think would benefit the state to at least demonstrate to those we represent what exactly it is that we are fighting for,” he said. “Being in the minority, it’s difficult to pass legislation, but that still doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”
Park said he worked to stop harmful anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ legislation that would have done significant harm to both communities. “We were able to do that as a minority voting coalition through coalition-building,” he explained.
The importance of coalition building is a lesson he has gotten from his political mentor, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
“Her campaign has been focused on doing what we did in order to win in 2016, which was focus on direct voter contact — talking to folks, voters, at the doors, which I think is the most effective way to turn out people to go vote,” Park said.
He worked for Abrams when she was the state’s House minority leader. Should she win next month, she will be the first African-American woman governor in the U.S.
Park said he draws much inspiration from Abrams’ approach to organizing and how she prioritizes door-to-door voter contact, which has helped propel her improbably run. “I would not have been able to get my foot in the door without her,” he said.
“She’s one of the few Democratic candidates in Georgia who understands the importance of building a diverse coalition and harnessing the diversity that exists in the State of Georgia to move us forward,” Park said. And he thinks she is going to win. Polls show a dead heat between Abrams and Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee.
Park’s biggest takeaway thus far is a contrarian one for 2018: “There is more we have in common than that which divides us.”
Park said he has never received any homophobic attacks, unlike a number of other openly gay lawmakers and candidates, and the Republican Speaker of the House welcomed him and all other new members of the governing body “regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.”
“I don’t think a speaker, let alone a Republican speaker, has ever uttered those words, so I felt very welcome,” Park said.
More than 20 incumbent Republicans are stepping down in Atlanta this year, and at least 15 Republicans are up for election in House districts that Hillary Clinton won, increasing the chances that the Democrat-Republican split in the state legislature will be tighter in the next session, opening the doors to more collaborative legislation.
Park hopes that by continuing to build coalitions with other groups, and perhaps under a new Democratic governor, Georgia may be able to pass comprehensive civil rights legislation and employment discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, among other progressive measures.
The Atlanta metro area has long been a haven for the LGBTQ community, and Park credits his LGBTQ predecessors for breaking ceilings and paving the way for “someone like myself to be elected.”
“And it is now my duty to make sure that the next generation of LGBT leaders will come after me,” Park said. “So to be a part of that path, to create an open and democratic process for members of the LGBT community to have a voice in their government is something I am very honored to be a part of.”
Check out the original story here: NBC Out.
Tags: #BigBankChallenge #BohemianKissChallenge #EqualityActJapan #StopAsianHate 2020 Olympics Aaron Schock Adam Castillejo Adam Rippon addiction ageism Aging AhTave AIDS Aime Wichtendal Alaska Alex Morse Almost Love America's Next Top Model American Medical Association Amy Coney Barrett Annise Parker Antes Que El Mundo Se Acabe Anti-Asian Violence Anti-LGBTQ ANTM anxiety Aptima HIV-1 Arizona Armie Hammer astrology At-home date Atlanta Atlanta Black Pride Atlanta Nightlife Atlanta Pride Atlanta Pride Run Austin Swink Austin Texas Backpacks for the Street Basel Abou Hamrah BFI Flare Bisexual BLACK GAY MEN Black LGBTQ Atlanta Black Lives Matter Black Love Bohemian Rhapsody Boston Boston MA Brian Sims Broadway bully Bullying California Call Me By Your Name Canada Capital Pride Capitalism Cason Crane Celebrity News censorship Chemistry Chemsex Chicago Chicago IL Chris Evans Christian proselytizing Christianity Christmas Christmas movie Christmas Movies Chucky Circus of Books civil unions Cody McCook Colorado Comedy coming out commentary compatibility Confidence Congress conspiracy theory Conversion therapy CoronaVirus COVID COVID-19 Covid-19 vaccine daddy Dallas Dallas Gay Bars Dallas Gayborhood Dallas Texas Danica Roem Daniel Harding Daniel Howell Date night dating Dating Apps dating rut dating tips DC Pride Dead to Me Denver Depression discrimination Disney Documentary Dolf Pasker Dolly Parton Domestic Violence Donald Trump Donna Price Drag Race drag racing Dustin Lance Black election Election 2020 Election Day Elite Employment Entertainment Entertainment news epidemic Fabio Fasoli Family family gatherings Film Finding True Love First Date First Date Etiquette first date ideas first date tips Flirting Tips Flirty Dancing Florida Fort Lauderdale Franklin Graham Freddie Mercury Garrett Clayton gay gay asian gay asian men Gay Atlanta Gay beaches Gay Boston Gay Chicago Gay Couple Gay Couples Gay Culture Gay Dallas Gay Dallas Nightlife gay dating gay dating advice gay dating app gay dating apps Gay Dating Solutions Gay Dating Tips gay discrimination gay film Gay Florida Gay Fort Lauderdale Gay Health Gay Holiday Movie Gay Houston gay kiss Gay Love Advice gay marriage gay marriage proposal gay men Gay Miami gay midlife Gay Mountaineer Gay Movies Gay New York Gay Nurse Gay Panic Gay Pride gay relationship advice gay relationship tips gay relationships Gay Scene gay seniors gay sex gay singles Gay Soldier Gay Travel Gay Twitter Gay Wedding gay weddings Gay Widower Gays Over COVID gaysian Gen Z Generation Z Georgia Gert Kasteel Ghosting GLAAD GOP Gorsuch Guy Vandenberg Gym Gays Haaz Sleiman Hallmark Halloween Hate Crime Health HGVT HIV HIV prevention HIV stigma HIV treatment HIV vaccine HIV/AIDS hobbies Holi-date Holiday Film Holiday Movies Holidays Hollywood Holyoke Homophobia hooking up hookup hookup culture Hot Vax Summer House Hunters Houston Texas Houston TX Hulu Ian Jordan Indya Moore Instagay Instagram intersex Intimacy Iowa Iowa caucus isolation It's A Sin Jake Gyllenhaal James Bushe Japan Jaymes Vaughan Jayson Conner Jeffrey Newman Jennifer Tilly Jewish Jewish persecution Joe Biden Jonathan Bennett Josef Salvat Jussi-Pekka Kajaala Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg JVN Jwan Yosef Karamo Brown Kristine Stolakis Lady Gaga Lesbian lesbian couple Let It Snow LGBT LGBT Travel Guide LGBT-Free Zones LGBTQ LGBTQ Asians LGBTQ Atlanta LGBTQ Boston LGBTQ Chicago LGBTQ Dallas LGBTQ discrimination LGBTQ employees LGBTQ Family LGBTQ Film LGBTQ Film Festival LGBTQ Films LGBTQ flag LGBTQ Fort Lauderdale LGBTQ Health LGBTQ Houston LGBTQ Miami LGBTQ movies LGBTQ New York LGBTQ NYC LGBTQ Pride LGBTQ retirees LGBTQ retirement LGBTQ Rights LGBTQ Seniors LGBTQ Victory Institute LGBTQ Youth Life Lifetime Lifetime TV Network Linda Warren lockdown London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival loneliness Love Victor Luke Evans Male Nurse Malik Brown marriage equality marriage proposal Marsha P Johnson Marvel Marvin Cortes Massachusetts mature gay dating mental health Mexico Miami Miami Beach Miami Beach Pride Miami Florida Michael Cashman Michael Henry Middle-aged gay men midlife Modern Family mormon Mr. Right Muscle gays music video My Gay Match NASCAR National Coming Out Day Nationwide Conversion Therapy Ban Neil Gorsuch Netflix Netflix Special Nevada New Year's Resolution New York New York City Nonbinary North Dakota Northern Ute tribe Nurse Appreciation Week NYC NYC Events NYC Pride NYC Pride 2021 Oak Lawn Obergefell v. Hodges older gay man Omander Omar Ayuso One True Pairing online dating online dating apps online dating tips online gay dating Online trolls Open Relationship Operation Hyacinth OTP Outfest Outfest LA 2021 Outfest Los Angeles Pan-African Pride pandemic Paper Moons Pat Robertson Pennsylvania Perez Hilton personality personality type Pete Buttigieg Pink Capitalism Poland Politics polyamorous polyamorous relationship polyamorous relationships Pope Francis Pose power bottom Pray Away PrEP pride Pride 2021 Pride Afrique Pride Flag Pride Month Prince Harry profile pic Puerto Vallarta quarantine Queer eye Queer Film Queer Films Queer Holiday Movies Queer Lawmakers Queer Love Story Queer Santa Queer Youth racism Rafa Olarra Rainbow Wave Reddit Relationship relationship advice Relationship Tips relationships religion Rep. Andy Biggs Republican retirement Ricky Martin rom-com Romantic Comedy Ryan Murphy Ryan O’Connell Samaritan’s Purse same sex marriage Same Sex Relationships Same Sex Wedding Same-Sex Couples Same-Sex Kiss same-sex marriage ban Schitt’s Creek Score Miami Score Nightclub Scott Evans Scott Wiener Section 28 self isolation self-care Senior Gay Dating Senior Gay Men senior gays Senior Prom Seven Summits sex Sex Education sex life sexual identity sexual preference sexual racism sexuality short film Shy Gay Guys Single All the Way single gay man Single Gay Men Single Gays Single Young Gays social distancing social isolation social media Social Security Somerville sports Stonewall Stonewall Riots straight men Super Bowl ads Super Bowl commercials Super Bowl LIV Supreme Court Switzerland Syfy Syria Tan France Television Tennessee The Boys in the Band The Center on Colfax The Christmas Setup The Eternals The First The Thing About Harry Threesome throuple TikTok Tom Daley toxic masculinity Transgender Travel Travis Shumake Trump administration Turner Free TV series Tweets Twitter Unconditional Love United Methodist Church US economy US Supreme Court Valentine's day viral video Virginia Washington DC Web Series Wedding Workplace workplace discrimination World AIDS Day World Pride young gay men Youth YouTube